When Bullying of Jewish Students Masks Ugly Anti-Semitism

Hatred in American High Schools Demands Our Attention

Throwback: Are high schools becoming the site of an anti-Semitism not seen since the 1940s.
Getty Images
Throwback: Are high schools becoming the site of an anti-Semitism not seen since the 1940s.

By Kenneth S. Stern

Published February 06, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Last year, Jewish high school students from Queens told me, almost as an aside, that classmates roll pennies in front of them. Two years ago, a group of high school students from the Binghamton, N.Y., area told me they were called “cheapie,” had to listen to chants of “Heil Hitler” and “Nazi,” and were kicked and otherwise intimidated on a Facebook-promoted “Kick a Jew Day.”

A recent court case chronicles a similar environment at a Long Island school. A Jewish student (now 16 years old) at Northport High School was addressed not by his name, but by calls of “Jew” or “Hey, Jew” or “You dumb Jew.” He was told: “Jews are disgusting,” “Being Jewish must suck,” “Hitler was a good person.” He was subjected to “jokes,” such as, “How many Jews can fit into a car? Two in the front, three in the back, and 6 million in the ashtray,” and, “What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? A pizza doesn’t scream when it goes into the oven.”

The type of anti-Semitism we associate with the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s still occurs in some places in the United States where Jews are a distinct minority, school officials are indifferent and parents do not know what to do. Some parents fear that bringing up the problem might actually make things worse (if the school does not change, and even if it does, they worry that their child might be blamed). The Northport case offers an important cautionary tale.

The high school student was bombarded with anti-Semitic provocations. From time to time, coins would be dropped in his path, and classmates would implore, “Get them, Jew,” or “Pick it up, Jew.” And on Valentine’s Day 2011, a student walked up to him and read a poem: “Roses are red, violets are blue. My love for you is burning hotter than 100 Jews burning in an oven.”

Going home after school provided little relief. Classmates posted anti-Semitic slurs on social media — in particular on Facebook.

A month before that lovely Valentine’s Day poem, the Jewish student wrote an essay for his English class. It was titled simply “Anti-Semitism.” “It gets lonely in school” he wrote. He recounted how it felt to be greeted not by his name, but by “Hey, Jew,” and, when he sneezed, by “God Bless Jew.” He wrote that he did not know how to reply to the insults, that sometimes he would just stand there in shock.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.